Mobile foods have proved to be intriguing points of departure for food scholars and food enthusiasts alike. Mobile foods are at the core of concerns about the impact of global processes, especially when multinational food corporations appear to resemble neo-imperial political and economic forces that are bent on invading and conquering new markets around the world. Mobile foods also offer sensory, emotional, and symbolic comfort for diasporic communities who are searching for a familiar sense of home. For health and environmental activists, meanwhile, traveling foods can represent the dangers of the global food system on individual bodies and landscapes. At the same time, foods and food cultures that are firmly rooted in place are just as provocative. Both local traditions and national economies are made possible by foods that are firmly embedded within ecosystems that are simultaneously cultural and environmental. Foods from particular locations provide the structuring parameters for identities and experiences. And for persons who travel—both actual and virtual tourists—foods offer a taste of other places, cultures, and times. Both the movement and emplacement of foods and food cultures open up possibilities for thinking about the nature of circulation, the conditions under which circulation does or does not happen, and the values and meanings attached to circulation.
What happens to “local” and “authentic” when Russian borscht travels to Asia as an American industrial food?
Banking on Wild Relatives to Feed the World | Maywa Montenegro
RESCUING TASTE FROM THE NATION: OCEANS, BORDERS, AND CULINARY FLOWS Introducing a Special Issue on Rescuing Taste from the Nation: Oceans, Borders, and Culinary Flows | Cecilia Leong-Salobir, Krishnendu Ray, and Jaclyn Rohe
Love in a Hot Climate: Foodscapes of Trade, Travel, War, and Intimacy | Jean Duruz
“Tastes Like Horse Piss”: Asian Encounters with European Beer | Jeffrey M. Pilcher
Feeding the Girmitiya: Food and Drink on Indentured Ships to the Sugar Colonies | Ashutosh Kumar
A Foreign Infusion: The Forgotten Legacy of Japanese Chadō on Modern Chinese Tea Arts | Lawrence Zhang
Culinary Work at the Crossroads in Istanbul | Zafer Yenal and Michael Kubiena
The Flow of Turtle Soup from the Caribbean via Europe to Canton, and Its Modern American Fate | May-bo Ching
Epilogue | Prasenjit Duara
The Knife and the Sharpener | Andrew Simmons
Dated, Labeled, and Preserved | Nancy Sommers
REVIEWS The Slaughter
Directed by Jason B Kohl, Reviewed by Alex Blanchette
Black, White, and Green: Farmers Markets, Race, and the Green Economy
By Alison Hope Alkon, Reviewed by Fa-Tai Shieh
The Donut: History, Recipes, and Lore, from Boston to Berlin
By Michael Krondl, Reviewed by Zenia Malmer
Eating Dangerously: Why the Government Can’t Keep Your Food Safe and How You Can
By Michael Booth and Jennifer Brown, Reviewed by Kai Chen
Writings on the Sober Life: The Art and Grace of Living Long
By Alvise Cornaro, Reviewed by India Aurora Mandelkern
Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food
By Hervé This, Reviewed by Camila Loew
Word of Mouth: What We Talk About When We Talk About Food
By Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson, Reviewed by Cornelia Gerhardt
The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu
By Dan Jurafsky, Reviewed by Anna Wexler
JUST DESSERTS Word Salad Challenge | Richard Wilk
Top Image: FIGURE 4: The Tsingtao brewery, founded in 1903, with its iconic German architecture and a Chinese-English sign reading: “Tsing Tao Beer can give you passion and happiness.”
In advance of the next event on March 16th, UC Press author and distinguished anthropologist David E. Sutton gives readers a taste of his upcoming lecture, “‘Let Them Eat Stuffed Peppers’: An Argument of Images on the role of Food in Understanding Neoliberal Austerity in Greece.”
“We all ate it together,” was the claim of Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos as he tried to explain the origins of the so-called Greek Crisis to an angry crowd of protestors back in 2011. This phrasing struck me at the time because it extends eating together, or “commensality,” into the domain of national politics. Such food imagery fit with my long study on the island of Kalymnos in the Eastern Aegean, where I had been filming people’s everyday cooking practices and writing about the sensory engagement of ordinary Kalymnians with their ingredients and with their kitchen environments, some of the themes that I explore in my book Secrets from the Greek Kitchen: Cooking, Skill and Everyday Life on an Aegean Island. I use my video ethnography of everyday cooking practices to open up questions of memory and transmission of cooking knowledge, tool use and the body, and the potential changes brought about by the advent of cooking shows in Greece. But most importantly in Secrets I try and give a sense of the ways that Kalymnian food culture shapes people’s larger attitudes, and how through their everyday discussions they create a shared food-based worldview, a “gustemology.”
In my talk at SOAS, “Let Them Eat Stuffed Peppers,” I will be continuing this exploration through a look at some of the ways food discourses and practices have developed over the past six years of the Greek Crisis. From debates over the relationship of eating, debt and responsibility, to the growth of solidarity practices such as the “Social Kitchen” movement and the “Potato movement,” to attempts by ordinary Kalymnians to return to past cooking and eating practices as a way of surviving the crisis, food has shaped understandings and responses to new conditions throughout Greece. I look at how certain foods have been associated with protest because of their connection to notions of Greekness, or because of their obvious foreign derivation. I also examine how Kalymnians are dusting off old recipes, and old foraging practices, to cope with times in which sources of livelihood that had been taken for granted for a generation are suddenly under threat.
It has become commonplace to think of food in terms of rights, including the right to access basic sustenance, the right to healthy food, and the right to culturally appropriate food. This idea that access to food is a right has been enshrined in the policies of many governments and organizations, ranging from the Constitution of the USSR and US-based programs such as federal food stamps and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) to the European Union’s Agricultural Policy and the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 25) and its Millennium Development Goals. In each case, the focus on rights to food illuminates ideals about the proper and necessary relationships between states and individuals. In some cases, the emphasis is on the proper actions of states to ensure the health and well-being of individuals, while in others, the emphasis is on the proper behavior of individuals as a condition of accessing food.
This emphasis on proper behavior and proper relationships illuminates another aspect of food: rites. Food and food practices are never neutral but always shaped by rules, values, and cultural logics. Thus to turn food into a right requires following particular rules for what kinds of food are possible, how they are distributed and consumed, and how different actors in the relationship behave. It is by following these rules that food is transformed into something more: a marker of humanity, a facet of citizenship, an incentive or barrier to foreign policy negotiations, or even a solution to global problems. In many ways, this shift from rights to rites reminds us that all food-related activities are performative.
In different ways, the contributors to this issue of Gastronomica are exploring rites and rituals to think through the cultural systems of rules that shape food use. In some cases, the rites and rituals are explicit, such as in the essay by Gary Fine and Christine Simonian Bean on the significance of banquets in American political activity, most notably the partisan nature of food and meals for political campaigns. In his essay on Japanese gastronomy, Scott Haas describes how Japanese chefs seek to educate diners about the uniquely Japanese qualities of this cuisine by illuminating culinary rules and the rationale—the cultural logic—behind these rules. In both essays, national identities become politicized through specific rules and rituals governing food.
Yet food rituals are never static, but always dynamic and in formation, as the essays by Joe Weintraub and Maryann Tebben demonstrate. Focusing on how French culinary practices have come into existence over time, Joe Weintraub uses the writings of nineteenth-century French food critic Eugène-Vincent Briffault to consider the invention of dinner as a social and culinary event. Taking on an even narrower category within the French culinary repertoire, Maryann Tebben examines how the French dessert course was transformed from being a fully edible entity in the seventeenth century to an aesthetic object in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and then to its current form as an object that conveys multiple symbolic messages.
A subtheme running through all of the essays is the tension between practice and discourse: what people do versus what they say or write. In some cases, the rules of rituals are more apparent in discourse because there is a form of documentation. Yet the rules embodied by nonverbal practices are no less real or legible. Legibility in different registers is at the heart of Dylan Gottlieb’s essay on a very contemporary, dynamic, and mobile form of food criticism: the use of Yelp and other forms of social media to evaluate and communicate food experiences. Although the social media format of consumers’ personal accounts of their food and dining encounters suggests a more democratic, even anarchic, form of communication, Yelp reviews are public performances that are highly scripted in the types of information that are presented, the audiences that are anticipated, and the qualities that are evaluated. Social media simply creates a new stage for the enactment of food rituals.
These themes of rites, rules, and performance are critically examined, unmade, and remade in the essay on food hacking by Denisa Kera, Zack Denfeld, and Cat Kramer. Employing a strategy that is part ethnographic case study, part manifesto for alternative ways to view and engage with the underlying structures and rules governing food—from the molecular to the social—Kera, Denfeld, and Kramer not only persuasively challenge prevailing assumptions about the proper ways to engage and think about food, but also offer new approaches for reimagining food.
The contributors to the creative reflections section of this issue also examine topics that remind us of the performative, ritual, rule-bound nature of food. James Nolan presents a profound conundrum familiar to anyone who has ever eaten alone in a restaurant: when is solo dining a publicly shared social experience, and when does it violate cultural norms about who is allowed to eat in a public setting. Similarly playing with questions about appropriate forms of social interaction, Brett Busang uses the case of Southern barbecue to link the micropolitics of family food rituals with larger American socioeconomic events. Through a whimsical account of finding and cooking with weeds in Australia, Tom Celebrezze asks us to think about how recipes are made, unmade, and remade through associational connections among remembered flavors, places, and people.
Finally, both Heather Richie and Corina Zappia reflect on the rules that are embedded in performative rites of identity. In Richie’s case, Cracker Barrel offers a lens for fundamental questions about what it means to be not just a Southerner or an American, but a member of a family. In Zappia’s case, the question is about how authenticity is performed and reified through food rules: namely, how does one demonstrate being authentically Filipino or even authentically Filipino-American when there is a conflict between knowing the cultural norms about the foods one should eat to demonstrate an authentic identity and the personal enjoyment of those foods. By describing an alternative set of food rules, Zappia presents a compelling case for multiple performances of authentic identity.
Sitka, Alaska resident Jim Michener knows that spring has arrived by the sentinel smell of a natural phenomenon he compares to stampeding herds in the Serengeti or bygone sky-darkening flocks of passenger pigeons over the Midwest. After a long winter, Michener will awake one morning in late March or early April and detect “the first whiff of the ocean” he’s had in five months. What’s caught the nose of this 44-year-old former charter fisherman and wilderness survival instructor for the US Coast Guard is an age-old hallmark of Sitka, the subtle tang of the annual herring spawn: the smell of dormant waters rebooting with life. This spawn, loosed from hundreds of millions of herring, inundates bays and shoreline waters with roe and milt, turning them milky white. Plankton bloom and mix with the spawn in the Alaskan waters Michener now uses in other months for his salt-making business, coloring the normally incredibly clear seawater a mesmerizing Caribbean green.
Whales and sea lions and bald eagles come to Sitka to prey on the herring. As do an elite group of fishermen who annually vie in a high stakes, multiday competition that sometimes takes place in the harbor immediately offshore Sitka’s downtown on Baranof Island in Southeast Alaska. On such occasions, stores close their doors, not because the shopkeepers have gone fishing, rather because they’ve gone to watch fishing. Spectators line the shore and stand shoulder to shoulder on the town’s bridge to watch the frenzied action of a fishery unlike any other, a precisely timed, macho haul of massive schools of ready-to-spawn fish nowadays captured in YouTube videos with titles like “The Shoot Out,” a fishery still basking in the glow of the single set that netted a lucky boat nearly a million dollars.
High overhead, a dozen or more spotter planes, many assisting multiple captains, radio where they see dark masses of fish. The sound teems with boats. Four-dozen permitted commercial fishing vessels, many outfitted with custom engines capable of 22 knots, jockey for position, awaiting the countdown from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), which oversees the fishery. Most of these boats are 58-foot seiners. Each has a small seine skiff that dashes off on a huge arc, bearing one end of a 200-fathom-long purse seine that soon rejoins the countercircling mother boat, fashioning an aquatic lasso big enough to surround a football field. That’s only about half of the boats in play. About a dozen Boston Whalers dart about like water bugs in the manner of roving pit crews, assisting with net closures and filling buckets with test samples for the processing plants. Standing by are dozens of tender boats. When the call comes, one will pull alongside a bulging purse seine, lower a hose the diameter of a municipal water pipe into the churning, silvery catch, pump ton after ton of fish aboard, and then shuttle them to shore for brining and flash freezing for shipment to the Far East. To monitor the catch, ADF&G staffs five boats. The spectacle even has a frame: nearby snow-capped mountains, including the blown volcanic top of Mt. Edgecumbe.
A day’s fishery might last an hour or two. Or as little as fifteen minutes, should ADF&G’s on-the-fly assessment of the collective haul reach the handling capacity of the three local processors or, say, on day two or three, the guideline quota for the annual harvest. Word will go out over VHF radio. “Five minutes.” Then, “Ten, nine, eight…” Like a basketball loosed after the buzzer, an unsecured seine net, post-countdown, goes for naught. It must relinquish its prey.